How Marijuana use Affects School Performance for Teens in High School
There is considerable debate these days regarding marijuana – including the subjects of medical use, decriminalization, and legalization. One question that has arisen is whether smoking marijuana affects school performance amongst young people. If one has any questions about this drug and its effects, it is a good idea to differentiate between the various issues. For example, whether people should be incarcerated for possession of marijuana and the science behind what the drug does to the brain are two distinct issues and should be treated as such.
What is THC?
Marijuana (cannabis) contains THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the chemical primarily responsible for the psychoactive effects associated with smoking or otherwise consuming the drug. All drugs affect the brain chemistry of the user. This is true of caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, cocaine, opiates, synthetic drugs, ecstasy, LSD, and the wide range of psychoactive substances.
Drugs are generally classified as to the specific physiological and mental effects they have upon the user. Stimulants range from caffeine and nicotine, to Adderall, Ritalin and cocaine – all the way through methamphetamine as to their potency and severity. Opiates (morphine, heroin, methadone) and a wide range of pharmaceuticals (Valium, Xanax, Klonopin) are classified as depressants. Opiates also include prescription painkillers (Vicodin, OxyContin, Opana) due to their chemical composition and opium-like effect. Alcohol is a depressant although in smaller quantities can have a stimulant effect. Similarly, a large dose of a stimulant will produce a depressant effect. Other drugs like LSD are classified as hallucinogens. Ecstasy (MDMA) is considered a stimulant and a hallucinogen.
What does THC do?
THC is classified as a hallucinogen. Although smoking a small quantity of marijuana would not likely cause one to hallucinate in the same way a hit of LSD would, consuming a heavy dose of pure THC could in fact have severe psychoactive effects. Smoking pot can have a depressant effect and can also cause the user to experience anxiety or paranoia.
Drugs affect the flow of a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) called dopamine, aka the “reward” chemical. A release of dopamine is the body telling itself something good has happened that should be continued or repeated. This explains (in part) the feeling of euphoria (the “high”) a drug-user experiences. Drugs cause an overload of dopamine into cell structures called receptors. The continuous artificial inducement of dopamine flow causes receptors and tissue cells to literally shut down. After the high has worn off, it is very common for the user to experience depression or “come down.” He or she will often seek the drug again in an attempt to relieve the depression and get a similar high. Marijuana (THC) use is not exempt from these physical and psychological reactions.
Facts about Marijuana Use
Here are some general facts about cannabis and how it can affect one’s daily life – including one’s job and education:
- When someone smokes pot, the THC gets lodged – to greater or lesser degree – in the fatty tissues of the body. The chemical can stay for weeks, months or even longer. This means that a person who continues to smoke marijuana can experience reactions from the drug even when they are not currently using it. These after-effects can occur without the individual realizing what is going on.
- Marijuana has a negative effect upon the cognitive function of the individual. Attention span, memory, and comprehension can be affected for days, weeks, or longer after the acute effects of the drug have subsided.
- According to reports from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), students who smoked marijuana on a regular basis scored lower on tests compared to those who were not using the drug. A summary of 48 separate studies reported a consistent correlation between cannabis use and lowered educational performance, grades, etc.
- In another study, a group of current and former long-term heavy cannabis users was compared to a control group of non-users in regards to cognitive abilities, social life, career achievement, and physical and emotional health. The majority of users themselves reported a series of negative effects in all of these areas directly attributable to the drug.
- Also reported by NIDA, a number of other studies have linked marijuana use with poor job performance including increased absences, tardiness, accidents, workers’ compensation claims and higher turnover rates. One study involving postal workers found that employees who tested positive for marijuana had 55% more job-related accidents, 85% more injuries, and 75% more absenteeism compared to employees testing negative for marijuana use.
- Analysis indicates a link between marijuana and cancer. Cigarette smoke contains 69 known carcinogens (cancer causing agents), while marijuana smoke has been found to contain 50-70% more carcinogens than cigarettes. Pot is also associated with respiratory illness such as bronchitis. Evidence also suggests impairment in immune function amongst marijuana users. Other physiological effects of smoking pot include erosion of lung fibers and damage to brain cells. The higher propensity for illness is another link between marijuana use and poor performance or increase in sick days on the job or in school.
- Another symptom of cannabis use is known as amotivational syndrome which means a general apathy and lack of motivation in life. This can be manifested as lethargy or unwillingness to exert oneself and can apply to school or work or any other facet of life.
- Any extended drug use builds up tolerance which means the user must gradually up the dose in order to get the desired effect. “Upping the dose” can mean a number of things: taking more; taking a more potent version; mixing with alcohol or other drugs; and using more powerful substances such as cocaine or opiates. Proponents of pot smoking will even promote heavier usage in order to build up tolerance and claim the drug is then “less harmful.” The massive hole in this “logic” is of course that a person will simply use more. An alcoholic for example has built up a gradual tolerance to alcohol to the point that he or she can drink a quart of vodka and several beers per day – not a healthy path for a human being.
- Cannabis does not tend to produce physical dependence like alcohol or opiates, but it can be psychologically addictive and easily lead to using harder drugs. Increased tolerance to the drug is one cause of this. People use drugs for many reasons, such as to escape from life problems or to numb themselves. When smoking weed doesn’t do it for them anymore, they may decide to try other drugs.
- Marijuana has been scientifically linked to other serious health problems. One of these is prenatal damage caused by pregnant mothers who smoke the drug. The first trimester of fetal development is the most delicate and a woman may continue smoking without even knowing she is pregnant; she may also be ignorant or negligent of the facts to the detriment of her child. Documented cases include abnormal cell division, impaired cognitive development, mental abnormalities, premature birth, birth defects, and other hereditary disorders.
- It is estimated that a single joint is equivalent to about 5 cigarettes in terms of the amount of carcinogens inhaled and damage to lung tissue. One reason for this is that the person smoking the joint will generally hold the smoke in their lungs for a longer interval. One New Zealand study placed a single joint as equivalent to 20 cigarettes.
- Over 99% of cocaine users started with nicotine, marijuana, or alcohol. Obviously, not everyone who smokes and drinks goes on to use cocaine or other narcotics, but is cannabis a “gateway” drug? One study found a cross-section of young people aged 12-17 who used marijuana were 85% more susceptible to use cocaine and other drugs than their peers who refrained from smoking pot. The same study found that 60% of kids who had smoked marijuana before the age of 15 moved on to use cocaine. If you still have any doubt, there is another test you can employ: Ask a few drug users or addicts how they got started and you’ll very likely get an answer to the question about whether it is a gateway drug.
Segments of the media have been incessantly promoting marijuana use as a harmless recreational activity. One is compelled to wonder what these individuals stand to gain from more people smoking pot. Whether it should be a criminal offense to possess the drug is another subject – more of a political or social question.
Marijuana is a psychoactive drug with negative physiological and mental effects. It took decades and millions of deaths for the medical community to admit to the harmful results of cigarettes. Perhaps the evidence of the harmful effects of breathing marijuana smoke has been less forthcoming only because less people have been smoking it over the decades as compared to cigarettes.
With pot being legal in two states (Colorado and Washington), youth today are faced with questions. They should be given facts. THC may have some limited medicinal value for specific conditions. Painkillers have medical use but are highly addictive substances. A large number of psychotropic drugs are legal but are harmful to the human body, but that does not mean marijuana is harmless by any stretch of the imagination. Knowing the facts is your best defense so you can make sensible decisions in your life.
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